Coping with Criticism.

So obviously nobody likes being told that their stuff isn’t any good. I went to my first writers workshop last night, and the teacher was talking a bit about this. Said that writing is one of the most personal art forms there is. Because someone can look at a painting and be done with it in two seconds. But even a short story takes time to read. You get invested in the story and the characters. You can’t just glance at someones story and quickly be done with it. When a person is reading something that you wrote, they are peeking into your soul a little bit, reading something that may have taken you weeks, months, years to finish. So if they have something negative to say, they are saying it to what was essentially your entire life for a short period of time. And that is never an easy thing to learn to accept.

But learning how to handle criticism is incredibly important for any writer. It works twofold. Constructive criticism, the kind where someone tells you what is wrong because they are trying to help, has to be taken just as that. The reader is just trying to give you their opinion to help you become a better writer. You may not agree with everything they say, but it has to be accepted as an opinion that the reader honestly thinks you need to execute for the story to improve. As much as we’d hate to admit it, they are just looking out for us, and that can be a good feeling as long as you get over the initial shock of being told that they didn’t like something that you had invested your life in.

The other benefit to criticism is learning to get the fuck over it.  Critics and readers alike can bash your work because they are having a bad day, or because you said something once to upset them. Your parents, no matter how old you are, can crush you by asking why you’re still wasting your time. This sort of intentionally hurtful criticism can work well in your advantage, as it helps your skin was grow thicker and your shit eating grin to grow bigger. It hurts, obviously, and is really hard to overcome something really scathing about your work, but after time, hearing someone say something critical without giving you a reason why they don’t like it or a way to fix it will become like water dribbling off a pane of glass. It clusters and slides away without affecting you in the least.

I  would really like to practice what I preach. But I will admit that it is a very hard thing to accomplish. I’m just not currently zen enough to let it all roll off my back like that. I can’t take criticism without wanting to give up.

Here’s an example. I recently wrote an article for an ecovillage in Missouri called “Dancing Rabbit.” I thought it was quirky, and intelligent, and well written. The woman in charge of reading it told me that she thought it was very well written, but some of my assumptions about living in said ecovillage were completely wrong. And some things, things I’ve heard members of the village talk and laugh about, aren’t actually things that most of the members are excited for others to know about. Obviously I wouldn’t know this stuff, because I don’t live there. Obviously, I should be happy that she didn’t reject it outright, that she asked me to fix a few things and get it back to her. Obviously, I should be thinking of the fact that she liked it, aside from a few things…

But I can’t help but feel like such a fool. How dare I not know that it is called an ecovillage, not an Eco Village? How dare I not know that while outsiders call them rabbits, the members don’t actually refer to themselves as such? How dare I not know that they don’t openly brag about their hygiene? I felt like an ass, like these points should have been so obvious and I was too stupid to know it.

I actually spent about an hour considering not sending it back to her updated. I thought, this article writing thing just isn’t working for me. But then I changed my tune. I forced myself to start editing it. Because if I backed out of everything I wrote because someone said it needed work, I’d never have any work completed at all. And this article might be the springboard for something bigger. The article was pretty much an interview for me, as I had originally been talking to the creator of the village to help him write his biography.

So I took a deep breath, reminded myself that she was just trying to help, and began to edit. I realized that she was simply informing me of a few things that I couldn’t possibly know about, and I feel a little bit smarter and in the loop now because of it. And I have to try to remind myself that she did say, a few times, that she really really liked what I had so far.

It is tough to do, but we all need adamantium backbones to be able to deal with this shit like we do.


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